Last week, because we are edgy, rebellious and pretty much the dictionary definition of renegades, we broke the law. We decided we’d had enough of having an outdoor space and no fire-breathing apparatus to exercise our American-given right to burn food on in the summer months and brought home the tiniest, safest and most docile grill ever manufactured, basically the fluffy kitten of the barbecue landscape. As I figure we’re going to be asked to remove it any moment now, all of my previous summer goals have be redirected to the following: enjoying every second of it while it lasts. We are going to grill everything. I am halfway to fulfilling my fantasy of setting all my food on fire.
We started with chicken, however, because in real life I am not exactly Francis Mallmann (I’m sorry to disappoint). We had a small crowd for dinner last Thursday (in advance of this guy’s guitar recital) and because we are officially at a point when I find cooking anything extra, no matter how wiped out I am, still more appealing than finding a restaurant that can accommodate 6 grown-ups, a 6-year old and a 10.5 month old fireball. I bet the restaurants thank us, too.
But if this is any indication of how simple summer cooking can be with a grill, I regret nothing. This assemble-your-own dinner setup, which was inspired by one I saw in Goop a few years ago, is exactly as laid back as big dinners should always be. First, you make a simple marinade for the chicken and let it sit in there for as long as you have — 20 minutes? 24 hours? It’s all good, as Gwyneth would say. Then you make an amount of tzatziki that will seem excessive, but it will disappear first. You chop a bunch of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions and then you grill all of your chicken (even on my tiny grill in two batches, this took about 22 minutes), add some pitas at the end and that’s it. You just fed 8 people and you barely broke a sweat. Plus, you pulled off the unthinkable — a light summer dinner that allows everyone to eat or not eat what they don’t want (onions, if you’re my kid; bread, if you’re most people right now) and leave you out of it so you can instead clink ice in your rosé glass and enjoy the charred scent of summer wafting off the table.
So…: What your favorite thing you’ve ever grilled? I have some catching up to do.
One year ago: Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
Two years ago: Carrot Salad with Tahini and Crispy Chickpeas
Three years ago: Lobster and Potato Salad
Four years ago: Rhubarb Snacking Cake
Five years ago: Spring Salad with New Potatoes
Six years ago: Scrambled Egg Toast and Strawberry Brown Butter Bettys
Seven years ago: Raspberry Buttermilk Cake and Slaw Tartare
Eight years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and Haricot Vert with Shallots
Nine years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Potato Kugel
1.5 Years Ago: Cranberry Pie with Thick Pecan Crumble
2.5 Years Ago: Parsley Leaf Potatoes
3.5 Years Ago: Cauliflower-Feta Fritters with Pomegranate
4.5 Years Ago: Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies
Chicken Gyro Salad
- Don’t worry if you don’t have a grill. Despite all of my excited talk about it, we’ve made this dinner many times in a grill pan on the stove and/or roasted in the oven.
- Short of making your own pitas, if you have any luck finding Kontos brand pocketless pitas, they’re my favorite for meals like this — thick, keep well without getting stale, freeze well for later and toast up beautifully. (Not sponsored!)
- Did you know that gyros means rotate or turn? The classic gyro sandwich is named after the vertical rotisserie usually used to cook lamb, beef or other meats. Needless to say, we’re adapting the idea a tad loosely here.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika, plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
- 2 cups (554 grams) plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
- 1 hothouse, English or seedless cucumber, unpeeled (about 1 pound)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- About 1 pound small-medium tomatoes, chopped
- 1 hothouse, English or seedless cucumber, chopped
- 4 large pitas (intending 1/2 per person) or more as needed
Make tzatziki: Place the yogurt in a medium bowl. Quarter your cucumber lengthwise and cut out the seeded area. Coarsely grate your cucumber onto a clean dishcloth and wring it out as well as you can. All of that liquid makes for a soggy sauce. Add wrung-out cucumber to yogurt bowl along with lemon, vinegar, dill, garlic, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill until needed.
Prepare salad components: Arrange lettuce, onion, tomatoes and cucumbers on a platter. If desired, toss onion with a squeeze of lemon and/or dash or two of vinegar and salt so that it mellows/lightly pickles while it rests.
Cook chicken: Heat your grill to high heat or a grill pan to medium-high. Remove chicken from marinade and grill on first side until dark lines appear, about 5 minutes, then flip and grill for 3 minutes more on second side. Cooking times will vastly range by the thickness and coldness of your chicken, as well as variations between grills. Transfer cooked chicken to a cutting board, let rest for a couple minutes while you quickly heat/toast your pitas on the grill.
Cut chicken into thin strips. Cut pitas into wedges. Add to platter with vegetables and let everyone dig in. Repeat all summer.